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2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery

Marking Time at Taranto

Marking Time at Taranto

The CRA left with General Freyberg on the 27th to study the battlefront. Next day in the 5th Field Lieutenant-Colonel Thornton paraded his men and addressed them in honour of the memory of the first CRA, Brigadier Miles, whose death in Spain (after a brilliant escape from a prisoner-of-war camp) had just been reported. In the afternoon it began to rain, and in the evening it turned into a drenching downpour which continued all night, eased only slightly on the 29th, and carried on into the night of the 30th, by which time dozens of gunners were flooded out. The rain also gave them plenty of work on roads and drainage ditches. It was a sample of what the Italian winter had in store for them and taught them to camp with an eye to the fall of the ground and to make their ‘bivvies’ secure.

The transport parties had meanwhile had a succession of demonstrations of inefficient army and waterfront administration. One of them, for example, left Burg el Arab on the 6th, staged at the Wadi Natrun, and reached a vast military vehicle park at Suez on the 7th. They stayed there and had to be driven nearly three miles to a transit camp for meals, which page 520 were appallingly bad. The officer in charge was told that the loading lists had been completely changed; but he could not obtain revised lists. Lorries had been packed at Burg el Arab on the understanding that the cranes to be used could lift 10 tons. Now many of them had to be unloaded because the cranes could not lift more than five tons. Their loads had to be repacked when the vehicles were aboard. According to one diary, there was ‘a lot of duck-shovelling of vehicles from one ship to another’. Loading nevertheless was finished on the 13th, but it was not until the 16th that the ships sailed along the canal to Geneifa. They passed Port Said next day and sailed in a convoy from Alexandria on the 19th. For the next day or two the North African coast was near. Then at first light on the 23rd Malta was in sight and the convoy anchored off Valetta in the afternoon and stayed there until the afternoon of the 26th.7 In a thunderstorm on the 29th unloading began at Bari. Vehicles went from the wharf to a marshalling yard and from there in small groups to Taranto. The last vehicles of this group arrived on the 31st, but others kept coming spasmodically for the next few weeks. Because of the poorly organised move from Egypt to Italy the units had spent three useless weeks at Taranto, hamstrung for lack of vehicles. The hasty move to Greece in 1941 had been far better planned and carried out.8

7 No shore leave was allowed, but some gunners dived overboard and swam ashore. On their return they were charged, but they were unanimous that their day in this historic and heroic city was worth the seven days' pay they were fined.

8 The strengths of the units on embarkation, including attached Signals and Ordnance personnel, were:

HQ 2 NZ Div Arty76
4 Fd Regt746
5 Fd Regt716
6 Fd Regt813
7 A-Tk Regt686
14 Lt AA Regt749
36 Svy Bty284